23 January 2010

In an age that increasingly trends toward digital mass production techniques and cost-cutting automations, you will be pleased to know that each one of our house signs is still made by hand. This article describes step by step how our traditional hand-crafting techniques bring your custom house sign to life.

(The sign shown in these photos was designed and purchased online by one of our customers).

Getting started

When your order first arrives, our designer is emailed a picture of the sign you have designed. Since this is a computer generated image, some minor tweaks are sometimes required to make the design perfect – so a ‘working drawing’ is created in Illustrator, and a final proof emailed so you can give a final ‘OK’ before we get out the chisels.

The design proof.

Once this has been approved, our production team starts work on the sign panel and the artwork - these two components are worked on concurrently to reduce the overall lead time.

The Sign Panel

First we select the pre-laminated sign panel. Our panels are made from High Density Urethane (HDU) laminated to a PVC board backing.

HDU is a water- and insect-proof closed cell foam that will never crack, rot or warp like timber. This material is the ‘face’ of the sign, and is ideal for carving, sculpting, painting and gilding.

The PVC backing is added to provide extra strength to the panel, and is a tough substrate to attach the hanging hardware into later.

Sanding the laminated panel.

Next, the sign panel is inspected and sanded to ensure there are no dents, and then hand-rolled with a coat of primer followed by three coats of high-performance Dulux exterior house paint. This combination provides the best adhesion along with excellent UV resistance.

Face coating.

After making sure that the ‘face coat’ is perfect, we apply a sticky vinyl carving mask. This mask is pre-cut by our computerised plotter using the same working drawing you approved, and establishes the positioning of the text and artwork while protecting the surface during production.

Plotting the carving mask.

Masking the sign.

The masked panel. The outline of the parrots is for positioning.

Next, the sign panel is cut out to the final shape using a wooden template and a hand router with a flush-trimming bit. The router leaves a much smoother edge than a bandsaw or jigsaw, and is also used to add a cove or bevel edge if required.

Cutting out the final shape. Note the wooden template on top of the panel.

Making the cove edge.

Finally it’s time to carve, and yes – each one of our signs is carved by hand with chisels! A picture is worth a thousand words:

Hand carving.


Once the letters are carved we apply a ‘choke coat’, which is the same colour as the face coat. This is to seal off any gaps in the mask so that the following coats will not bleed underneath. This is followed by three more coats of Weathershield paints, of the final colour.

Painting text & edge.

Some house signs have gilded text. If this is the case, two coats of primer are applied after the choke coat to give the letters a smooth surface, and then 2 coats of ‘gold size’, a special oil-based glue used to stick on the gold.

After sizing, we need to wait about 18 hours until the size has dried to a ‘whistling tack’ (when you drag your finger over it, it whistles!). It is crucial to get the timing perfect at this stage, since wet size will dull the gold, and dry size will not stick.

The 23kt gold is then applied with brushes, and allowed to dry for 24 hours before it is sponged off to remove excess gold.

Laying in the gold leaf

Next we turn the sign over and attach the hanging system. The simple, rear-mounted design allows you to hang your sign onto most walls without having to fasten ugly hardware through the face of the sign.

Mounting the backframe.

While all this has been going on, your artwork has also been moving through the works – here’s how:

The Artwork

Many house signs have custom artwork. But even in cases where the artwork is one of the standard options on the Sign Designer – the original design must be individually hand sculpted.

First, the image is traced onto a piece of HDU and cut out with a jigsaw. Then, using knives and chisels, the artist shapes the sculpture to perfection.

Sculpting the original artwork.

In the case of custom artwork, this sculpture will be attached directly onto the house sign. If the sculpture will be used multiple times, a silicone mould is made and images are cast with a 2-part casting resin. After a 24 hr curing time the hardened resin is extremely dent resistant and weatherproof. We then clean the cast sculpture of any residue and allow it to dry before priming.

Pouring the resin into the silicone mold.

The finished casting.

The artwork then needs to be hand-painted by our artists.

Painting the artwork.

Once the artwork is finished and dry, it is attached to your sign panel using glue and a few discreet nails. The protective mask can be peeled of, and the sign is inspected.

Peeling the mask.

Final touch-ups are completed, and we email a photo of the finished sign to you before it gets shipped out.

Rainbow Beach, Queensland

Done! Now check out the online Sign Designer to make your own.